How to have fun in Denver in the time of social distancing

Get some ideas from your fellow shut-ins.

Jesse Lopez works at Twin Parishes food pantry in Cole on March 17, 2020, the first time they've had to distribute meals outside in 40 years. (Kevin J. Beaty/Denverite)

Jesse Lopez works at Twin Parishes food pantry in Cole on March 17, 2020, the first time they've had to distribute meals outside in 40 years. (Kevin J. Beaty/Denverite)

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By Sarah Scoles, for Denverite

Before most people poured their second cup of coffee Tuesday morning, Kat Lewis had already “raged” on social media, started watching Moana, and worked on cleaning her place. That wouldn’t have been a typical Tuesday for her before COVID-19.

“I would be at the store right now,” says Lewis, who works in retail. Later in the day, she would have been “coming home, hanging out with my cat, meeting a friend for a cocktail.”

But since the novel coronavirus has introduced the world to the concept of social distancing, Lewis has spent much of her newfound free time in her kitchen in Denver.

“Baking gives me a purpose and a focus,” she says. “No matter how it turns out in the end, it tastes really good. And I created something.” All of those factors help store up some mental fortitude — even happiness — for the tough days ahead.

In Denver, people like Lewis are united — behind their closed doors — with others across the world who’re working from home, foregoing social get-togethers, staying out of stores, and keeping their distance from basically everyone and everything. While that’s the epidemiologically smart action to take, and the best thing for the community, isolation still isn’t easy. That’s why, in the midst of this crisis, Denverites are finding ways to maintain their relationships and create new versions of their old out-going activities — ones that keep them feeling busy, useful, entertained, and maybe even a little normal, during a strange historical moment.

Rich Ginsberg, president of the Colorado Psychological Association, told Colorado Matters that tangible hobbies matter now more than ever.

“One of the most important things to think about is that we’re not supposed to emotionally be ourselves right now and giving ourselves the permission and the acceptance around our own disrupted emotions,” he said. “And at the same time, we want to be able to hold on to things that help us feel in control and, and make us feel strong and supported and safe and secure.”

For Lewis, that means a focus on sourdough bread, which gets its distinct flavors from the microbial communities — which differ by environment, ingredients, and baker — which then make their way into the bread.

Lewis doesn’t keep her creations to herself, either. She and a friend have been baking virtually for a while, passing pictures and videos of the goods back and forth, a practice they’re continuing now that such remoteness is near-mandatory. Food-makers worldwide are sharing their creations with hashtags like #QuarantineKitchen and #CoronaVirusKitchen.

The internet, ever the linker of humans, has proven key to keeping up connection during this particular time. 

Before COVID-19, Helene Kwong was part of a few fiber arts and crafting groups, including a meetup at the Broadway shop Fancy Tiger Crafts. Like Lewis, Kwong enjoys the way knitting and crocheting, her hobbies of choice, are tactile, and create a physical object. She’s hoping to take some of her craft groups virtual. “I’ve planted the seed a little bit with friends,” she says.

If you want to take up a similar new hobby, maybe try multitasking: knitting and videochatting with friends at the same time. There are tons of how-to YouTube videos, says Kwong. And some local yarn shops take online orders, so you can support small businesses — which are struggling through these strange days — without breaking isolation.

Online connectivity can also open doors to new relationships, not just bolster old ones. NextDoor, perhaps best known nationwide for stoking fear and abetting racial profiling, is currently full of posts offering to go grocery shopping for immunocompromised or elderly neighbors, to drop off disinfected kids’ books, to share soap. People are scouting for stores that have toilet paper and creating volunteer groups to help now-jobless service workers.

“We’re all just trying to figure it out together,” says Lewis. “I think, at the end of the day, we always have to have hope, like our lovely Mr. Rogers talked about.”

NextDoor is how Amanda Ruscoll, who runs Yoga High Denver, is organizing some socially distant socializing. She recently posted on the forum to gauge interest in a small outdoor yoga class, with mats six feet apart, no one breathing on anyone else, and open air dispersing potential threats.

“Maybe I can just offer a little bit of normalcy,” she says.

She closed her downtown studio last weekend, but plans to pay teachers as long as she can and is hoping to move classes online very soon. Donations from the outdoor class will go to service-industry workers.

Many other beloved groups and activities are offering once-removed versions of their typical events. Companies are hosting Google Hangout happy hours; friends are setting up FaceTime lunch dates. The Denver Cinema Club meetup group is watching a movie together on the videoconferencing app Zoom. Although you can’t go to the library, you may borrow an ebook, get an audiobook, or call this number to have someone’s recorded voice soothingly read a story to your kid (or to you, because, honestly, we could all use someone to tell us some bedtime tales right now). Why not have a virtual book club with your friends on Google Hangouts, even if you’ve never held a book club before, and even if you don’t actually talk about the books?

But if actual escapism is more up your alley, Denver’s Lago Paruzel has something for you: audio escape rooms. He and his wife, Melissa, came up with the idea a few months ago. 

“[We] founded Paruzal.com with the idea of launching this summer once we had written maybe eight or so of these episodes,” Paruzal says. “But with the need for social distancing, we decided to launch with the three episodes we already had on hand.” Users — from down the street or around the world — can book a “room” together and solve blissfully fictional problems, connecting over Zoom.

Online chats have also propped up Colorado nonprofit worker Amy, who asked that we not use her last name. Amy, who’s in her late 30s, had a pulmonary embolism in January.

“I have been at home on oxygen ever since,” she says.

Doctors had given her the go-ahead to start driving again, right before people started panic-buying-out stores.

“I was able to get groceries,” she says, “but I was not able to find hand sanitizer or disinfecting wipes.”

In her compromised state, that meant she couldn’t accept deliveries, which could have been contaminated.

Couldn’t, that is, until Reddit users got involved. There, someone offered to mail her hand sanitizer. A Denverite saw that she didn’t have wipes, and offered to drop some off on her doorstep.

A few days ago, Amy started her own subreddit, /r/RabbitInABurrow, where people at high risk can gather from the safety of their own keyboards.

“It’s a positive place to talk about self-isolating,” she says, “so that people — especially people who aren’t on traditional social media — have a place to connect.”

With her IRL friends, who she no longer sees IRL, she’s amped up chats on WhatsApp. One friend sent her a used Playstation, in part so they could play games together.

“Before, I never had time for anything like that,” says Amy. But times have changed. And so have game companies, some of which are offering free plays, in an effort to incentivize people to have fun on their own couches and just stay home.

Ryan, a Colorado student whose last name has also been withheld, used to get much of his social interaction through in-person games. He’s big on LARPing — Live Action Role-Playing, where people gather and physically play out fictional game scenarios.

“It gets a lot of people who are nerdy, a lot of people who might otherwise be shut-ins, out and about and interacting with people,” he says.

Ryan, a self-identified hermit, got a significant social life by going to LARPing meetups, which draw dozens of people to local parks, campgrounds, or players’ houses. Now, he’s forced back into his house, as LARPing events go dark. But some groups have also gone online: One is playing itself out on Discord, a text- and video-chat service made for gamers.

Ryan recently used Discord to set up a socially-distanced chat hub — a Discord “server” just for his friends. You can set up your own server (it’s easy), send invitations to your beloveds, and then talk serendipitously with whoever happens to be online when you are, or set up specific times to pop into digital existence together.

Discord has been a godsend for Ryan, who says that even not during a pandemic, he often feels isolated because he experiences depression and anxiety.

“I’m kind of someone who already has some additional difficulties under the best of circumstances,” he says. “But I’ve been able to keep connected with my friends. It’s just an open channel.”

Friends send bursts of messages throughout the day; he’s spent hours voice-chatting with people. For him, Discord removes the barriers to making the first social move.

“We’re in this together,” says Ryan, “and we’re going to get through this together.”

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